On August 17, the Royals made a curious move with Brad Keller, one of the team’s few starting pitchers under contract beyond 2022: they moved him to the bullpen. At the time, Keller had just made his 22nd start of the season. It did not go well. He lasted only three innings and gave up eight runs, all earned, while surrendering nine hits and three walks with only three strikeouts. The Royals lost the game against the Dodgers, 13-3.
But the start before that one was much better: Keller tossed six innings of one-run ball (off a solo home run) allowing just seven total baserunners while striking out four. The Royals defeated the Red Sox, 13-5.
Alright, go back to his last eight starts before the aforementioned two. Keller went 4-4 in those, throwing 45 innings while giving up 44 hits, walking 20, and striking out 35. He gave up just two home runs while posting a 4.40 ERA and 3.60 FIP. Batters slashed .251/.331/.366 against him but hit .302 on balls in play.
There were some duds in there (August 2nd against the White Sox) but there was more good than bad (especially June 18th against Oakland and July 1st and July 11th against Detroit).
Suffice it to say, the decision to move him to the bullpen was a head-scratcher. Even more odd was the timing, right after the trade deadline.
Did the Royals try to move him? After all, he is only under club control through 2023. Did the the Royals not try to move him and based the decision to pull him out of the rotation based on two bad August starts, even with a solid outing in between?
Regardless the logic, or lack thereof, the Royals moved Brad Keller to bullpen on August 17, four days after a loss dropped his record to 6-13. The rest of the season saw Keller appear in 13 games of relief.
It did not go well.
Brad Keller gave up five runs on six hits in 0.2 innings in his first relief appearance. Even taking that out, he came into today with 16 hits allowed in 14.2 relief innings and 10 walks. Now he's started this one with more hits. That just doesn't work.— David Lesky (@DBLesky) September 29, 2022
In those baker’s dozen worth of games, Keller pitched 17.1 innings while allowing 25 hits (one home run) and 10 walks while striking out 19 batters. Opposing teams hit him much harder than they did when he was in the rotation, slashing .329/.407/.447 while hitting a whopping .429 on balls in play. As a reliever, Keller posted a 6.23 ERA—but a much lower 3.40 FIP.
Overall, Keller threw just under 140 innings in 2022 and finished with a 5.09 ERA (80 ERA+), 4.50 FIP, 1.504 WHIP, 16.5 strikeout percentage and 9.2 walk percentage.
What’s next? Well, he enters the final year of arbitration after having earned $4.825 million in 2022. That figure will likely rise. With that in mind, will the Royals even tender him a contract? At the start of 2022, that seemed very likely, but with the move to the bullpen and his poor performance while there, it now seems slightly unlikely. Why would the Royals pay a struggling bullpen arm $6 million or more for one season?
Better yet, why would Keller want to return to a team that scuttled a fine season? Of course, if they tendered him a contract, he’d have no choice. But it looks as though the bridge between Keller and the Royals has been burned. Maybe that was more Dayton Moore’s doing, and with him out, perhaps Keller feels like things can be mended.
Brad Keller, 95mph Fastball and 86mph Slider, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/op30gkhVp4— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 11, 2022
A former Rule 5 draft pick nabbed from Arizona, Keller had a great rookie season in 2018 followed by a season learning to be a full-time starter in 2019 and a great shortened 2020 season. 2021 was rough, and 2022 ended dismally.
Once looked upon as the team’s future No. 1 starting pitcher, Keller’s days in Kansas City will be spent building up his trade value.
Or his days as a Royal are already over.
What grade would you give Brad Keller for the 2022 season?
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